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Campus censorship set for a record-breaking 2024

Deplatforming attempts are set to rise further this year. Credit: Getty

April 5, 2024 - 11:50am

Last week, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin tried to give a talk about democracy at the University of Maryland. I say “tried”, because he never got to actually do it. Moments after Raskin began his remarks, pro-Palestine protesters started heckling him, shouting accusations that he was “complicit in genocide” and preventing him from proceeding with his speech.

In response, the university’s President Darryll Pines claimed that attendees had just witnessed  “democracy and free speech and academic freedom” in action. In other words, by shouting Raskin down and preventing people from hearing what he had to say, these protesters were merely exercising their own First Amendment rights.

Pines couldn’t be more wrong. Shout-downs are mob censorship, and a grave threat to free speech.

In truth, everyone in that room witnessed more of the censorial problem of shout-downs, heckler’s vetoes, and the disinvitations and deplatformings of speakers that has been rampant on college campuses for years. In our book The Canceling of the American Mind, my co-author Rikki Schlott and I show that since 2014 we have seen an unprecedented number of professors being punished or fired for their speech. Now, we are seeing the highest level of deplatforming attempts on record.

In fact, 2023 was the worst year ever for campus deplatforming attempts — and 2024 is already on track to blow it out of the water. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has already recorded 45 deplatforming attempts as of 15 March, a pace of around 200 for the year, but I suspect that it will be even higher as shout-downs have become such a popular tactic among activists. Free speech on campus has been threatened for a long time, it’s not getting better, and anyone who can’t see that is being wilfully blind.

FIRE noted a record-setting 155 deplatforming attempts in 2023. Almost half (70) of those succeeded — also a new record. These included the Whitworth University disinvitation of Chinese dissident Xi Van Fleet; the cancellation of multiple screenings of the film Israelism at Hunter College and the University of Pennsylvania; and the shout-down of 5th Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan at Stanford Law School.

The 7 October attacks against Israel have stoked this already raging fire, and only four months into 2024 it already seems like 2023 will be calm by comparison. While FIRE has logged deplatforming attempts from both sides since 7 October, the most recent examples we have all concern pro-Palestinian protestors shutting down pro-Israel speech. To name a few recent examples: an event with Rep. Daniel Kurtzer was disrupted multiple times by pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of Washington; campus police at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas escorted Israeli physics professor Asaf Peer out after pro-Palestininian protesters began shouting him down; and a lecture by Rep. Derek Kilmer at the University of Puget Sound was interrupted and ultimately cancelled when a group of protesters forced their way into the hall and onto the stage.

This madness will continue until schools recommit to free speech principles and strictly enforce them on campus. This means that students who engage in outright violence should be expelled, people who disrupt events should be disciplined, and administrators who either fail to punish students or, worse, encourage or help orchestrate this shouting down should be fired.

There are many actions schools can take (along with pressure from donors and some more unorthodox ideas) to contain this horrible trend in higher education. These include a firm commitment to institutional neutrality, getting rid of administrative bloat, and inculcating an understanding and appreciation of First Amendment principles in students from their first day on campus.

And then there’s the rest of us. Every time one of these events occurs, it’s up to donors, alumni, and regular citizens to demand an investigation and disciplinary action — especially focused on administrators. After all, one of the biggest threats to free speech and academic freedom in higher education has been the vast scale of the campus bureaucracy. Trimming the ranks of those who are unwilling to rein in mob censorship is a vital first step in preventing 2024 from becoming the deplatforming disaster it currently promises to be.


Greg Lukianoff is the president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and is an Executive Producer of the new documentary The Coddling of the American Mind. 

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Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 month ago

This isn’t a free speech issue. These are paid mobs. The children utilized may not realize it, but they are being organized by highly funded disruption actors – usually foreign entities.
The author points out the biggest reason this is so common: the cowardliness of the academy. The administrators are all-in with this bullsh*t, the professors are too frightened by what their own ideological buy-in has cost them, and the deans have been rolling over since Bartlett Giamatti ceded Yale to student “protestors”. And, with “higher education” dominated by females with the emotional IQ of 5th graders, young men are leaving academia altogether.
If colleges and universities want this to stop, they’d have to begin by refusing foreign money. How likely is that?

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
1 month ago

There is a horrible irony that these useful idiot activists have been convinced that free speech is a problem.
It is the exact opposite. Curtailing free speech is always ultimately something the powerful do to the powerless in order to maintain their power.
Unfortunately for them and the rest of us, some people have to learn the hard way.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 month ago

“the university’s President Darryll Pines claimed that attendees had just witnessed ‘democracy and free speech and academic freedom’ in action.”
There is no way to argue with people who are capable of this level of either craven submission to bullies, mind-boggling self-deception, or flat-out brainlessness. (Maybe all three.) They are going to have to be simply ignored and perhaps shunned from polite society as one would manage a toddler having a tantrum.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

It beggars belief that a university president can’t even differentiate between free speech and the heckler’s veto.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 month ago

You get more of what you allow. When the heckler’s veto is treated as the default and correct response to “ideas I don’t like,” don’t act shocked when this becomes the norm. I do wonder, though, if the incident had any effect on the insanely partisan Raskin’s defense of the ridiculous college professors who beclowned themselves and their profession some months back.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Again, the irony is delicious when it comes to partisan clowns like Raskin.

T Bone
T Bone
1 month ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Of course not. Leftist alliances are all transactional. Different groups aren’t friends that care about each other. They are “Allies” of “solidarity.” It’s a numbers game. The Party needs their vote so the Party will continue to placate their extremist fringe.

Its also true that placating the “extremist fringe” isn’t exclusive to the Left. But through projection and mystification, The Party has broadly cast something like 80% of the Right as “extremist” while very narrowly defining extremist for those on the Left.

They’ve given their own base complete immunity to be publicly disruptive. So they can solve their own problems now. The Convention in Chicago should be interesting.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago

You know the regime media is no longer fit for purpose because none of this information will be published on any of their platforms.

What’s interesting is that protestors are no longer simply cancelling events directly related to their cause. They are now cancelling events that have nothing to do with their cause.

T Bone
T Bone
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Good point. I think it’s because Leftism is an “Interconnected Worldview.” So no subject is technically unrelated to the cause.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Yes. Women trying to get together to discuss any number of issues, are automatically shut down by trans activists. Never mind that it not an issue for the group, women must be shut up.

Erik Hildinger
Erik Hildinger
1 month ago

Universities will support free speech when it is in their interest to do so. Students are customers and the customer is always right. Do you see how the pieces fit together?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

Reminds me of 1930s